The Spirit of Paagak: The Outcast
By: Johnny Hawk
Biboon (Winter Time) is the time for Anishinabek where we would disperse into smaller family groups and go into our Winter Camps spread out through our territory which served as a way to not over harvest in one place to ensure we would sustain ourselves by our traplines and hunting. Biboon was also a platform for one of our most integral institutions; the time of Aatisookaanag (Sacred Stories) the passing on knowledge, history and teachings. Aatisookan was not only sacred stories but was the muses, the inspiration as well as the spirits that exist within these stories which are very real.
Paagak/Skeleton when he was a human being committed a terrible thing. He lusted after his brother’s wife and came up with a plan to cause his brother’s death to appear as an accident so he could care for her and make her his wife. The people in the village eventually saw through Paagak and his devious plan as they knew his brother was someone who was sensible and could look out for his own. The village eventually made Paagak an “outcast” where out of guilt he would eventually succumb to his own demise where the Spirit World didn’t even want him. He has been stuck in between this world and the next flying around as a Skelton since, lonely and maybe even vengeful trying to get others to join him.
Maybe we need to forgive this Spirit for what he did so long a go and petition the Spirit World to help him move on so it no longer preys on the vulnerable and maybe we need to find alternative ways to help those who are made to feel like “outcasts” by our communities today for mistakes they’ve done or for just being who they are?
The Spirit of Paagak has become more of a curse and epedemic in our communities today where we refer to it as it’s colonial name as suicide. Sure colonialism and today’s problems we are faced with plays its part but if this Spirit wasn’t an issue for us when we we’re stronger people in “traditional” times why do we have this Aadosikaan? Maybe its not the White man or the Government who needs take responsibility? Maybe solutions is not demanding funding but within our own Institutions like the time of Biboon we are in of sharing Aadisokaan and giving a voice to the ppls? After all we claim to be Anishinabek or is this all just fairytales and myths including the rhetoric of reemerging our own institutions? It isn’t financially costly to establish these type of circles and mechanisms but it has been costing us much more than some figure on a funding agreement.
Biboon is also a time traditionally where food stocks would run out and the reality of starvation would strike. There is also a spirit that would stalk and prey upon our villages and possess the spirit of our people which was known as windigo. In our language this term is expressed as “Wii, Digoh” translating as they are in excess, referring to the cannibals and their spirit of excess. In these times we are in colonialism also plays it part and like Paagak as only helped to intensify these Spirits.
An institution to help defeat Windigo’s and Paagak was the Windigokaan Society, the “Not Cannibals” who were individuals some say were Thunderbeings disguised as humans. They are individuals who are born as such with a contrary nature to them. Some aastisokaan say a long time ago the elders got together as they didn’t not know how to deal with such people and wanted to give them purpose.
This institution serves as a societal mirror in our villages. They would mock the sacred, helping to create what is excepted and not excepted by challenging protocols and taboo’s in turn helping to form such boundaries. Their antics would help scare off or trick windigo’s that a village was already being possessed by other windigo’s. Sometimes some of our people would turn into Windigo’s and Windogokaan people would have to be called upon to help deal with a situation most times doing not so nice things. However during the dark times of colonialism it was the Windigokaan’s antics that helped provide relief making the people laugh where some would refer to them as the sacred clowns.
Today some who are born as such do not know they belong to this society as there communities forgot about this institution or there are some who claim to be such but do not fulfill its true medicine out of fear of offending the majority or are just playing with the notoriety of being what some call Contrary.
Like most of our original institutions today this too has become tokenized, bastardized and pacified where Windigokaan are only acceptable to those that know of them to be welcomed and seen once a year at Sundance’s where they are invited in at a specific time to help challenge and test sun dancers to help them keep focussed on their prayers. At times even Spiritual relatives who are put up on a pedestal need to be humbled by Windigokaan and it is ironic most who know of this society and their nature get offended when they’re being gifted with thunder and lightning medicine by this society as if they’re exempt from being shown their reflections.
There are many solutions within our own institutions that need to be fully appreciated, asserted and understood like our Traditional Leadership, Windigokaan Societies, Warrior Socieities and Aastisokaan that helped us to survive this far which like our Medicine Societies in past generations are made to be outcasts and go misunderstood.